Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From Hakone to Kamakura

One of the memories that stands out from Mark’s childhood in Japan was his school field trip to Kamakura to see the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha of Kamakura (pictured below). Perhaps ever since then, he has dreamt of returning to Kamakura to see not only the Daibutsu, but many of the other temples and shrines that are found in the seaside town that was once, throughout the 13th century, the de facto capital of Japan, the seat of shoguns.

That dream is now being fulfilled.

We left Hakone yesterday morning, getting on the bus outside our Fujimien lodge at 9:30 for the descent to Hakone-Yumoto rail station. On the way down, it started raining, a steady but gentle rain. We were grateful that we had had a nice day on Tuesday, starting with a clear view of Fuji. We had met a couple of Dutch brothers from near Arnhem the night before in the onsen (bath) who were on an 10-day visit to Japan; they would not enjoy the same good fortune of seeing Fuji because they had arrived the day before and were leaving yesterday for Kyoto. No view of Fuji for them. (Koen: I didn’t ask the name of the town, but they said they were 5-10 kilometers from Arnhem.)

We started texting with Aaron on the way down to Yumoto, and before we knew it, he had sent a FaceTime request. We went ahead and answered, even though it was a “no-no” to do so in a public transportation vehicle such as we were on. We were able to have a brief conversation with Levi, but I felt very self-conscious, plus the connection wasn’t that good. But it was still remarkable that we were able to do that on a bus heading down a narrow, winding mountain road in Japan, talking with our son in Bountiful, Utah.

The rain was still falling when we arrived at Hakone-Yumoto. We had purchased our tickets (or so we thought) when we were still in Tokyo for our return to Shinjuku station. I had the feeling, however, as we were sitting on the platform waiting for our train, that we perhaps needed to purchase additional tickets. I still haven’t figured this out, but there are two layers of tickets on some trains. We had been issued the first layer in Tokyo, and I wondered whether we needed to purchase the second. It later turned out that my hunch was proved correct. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, a few pictures from Yumoto station.

Okay. I had to take a picture of this guy because of his hat. It was obviously very well-worn.
I couldn't help wondering if he knows what the word means in English. ;-)

When we arrived at Shinjuku station in Tokyo, we fed our tickets into the turnstile that one passes through on the way out. I started through, but the gates popped shut on my bag. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so I simply extricated my bag and went on. The same thing happened to Mark. It was then that he commented that my hunch that I needed to buy additional tickets was correct, pointing out that we were undoubtedly on some security camera footage and an all-points bulletin will probably be issued.

We had a bit of a travel experience when we went to purchase tickets to Kamakura. We went to a Japan Railways information center and were assisted by a very helpful young woman who spoke good English. She told us what amount we needed to pay, when the next train left and that we could purchase our tickets just around the corner at a bank of ticket machines. 

We went to where we were directed, did as we were told, then inserted our credit card. Nothing happened. Then it became apparent that I could not extricate my credit card. A slight feeling of panic arose within me. 

After a couple of moments, the part of the machine holding my credit card was pulled out from behind, then a head popped out of a little door next to me. (For some reason, it reminded me of a scene involving Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.) A very pleasant young man tried desperately to communicate to us in English, searching for words. It finally became clear that the machines were cash only and that we would have to go to the ticket office just beyond the machines. We thanked him profusely, me desperately glad to have the credit card back.

Fifteen minutes later, we were on a commuter train to Kamakura, which is about an hour south of Tokyo.

On the train to Kamakura

When we arrived in Kamakura, we knew that, in order to reach our hotel, we would have to get on a little electric train (the Enoden Line) that runs back and forth in the little communities along the coast between Kamakura and Fujisawa. 

We went in to an information office just outside the train station and were assisted by a very helpful middle-aged woman who spoke excellent English. She told us exactly what we needed to do, which machine to use to purchase our tickets and how much they would be. Just to be safe, an older man standing there offered to escort us over to the machine, about 20 meters away, and help us.

As if on cue, the sun came out about this time, welcoming us to Kamakura.

This map shows the route between Kamakura and our hotel, which is located approximately where the number "12" is.

Twenty or so minutes later, we were at our hotel, which is on a rise above the ocean, giving us a very nice view of Enoshima Island, pictured in the lead photo above. 

And now it is time for today’s English-ism. My brother-in-law informed me via email that the correct term is “Engrish,” so from now on, I’ll refer to “Engrish-ism.”

When I opened the door of the closet in our room, the following scene greeted my eyes:

Note the message at the bottom of the card: “The slippers are finished with cleaning.”

The place we are staying here is much different than the previous two hotels. It was intended to be our little indulgence in some luxury while we are on this trip. The room is western and, by Japanese standards, spacious. The beds are extremely comfortable, and I had an excellent night’s sleep last night. We didn’t even get out of bed until around 5:30 – which is very late compared to what we’ve experienced so far here – enjoying the floor to ceiling window that let in the rising sunlight.

We were also treated to another view, albeit only dimly, of Mount Fuji in the distance.

A picture of our hotel taken this morning from a tiny balcony off our room
Being in such a “nice” place, however, has come with a few disadvantages. The first is that there is no WiFi – at all; not even in the lobby. We could hardly believe it. The hotel only has five WiFi modems “for rent,” and all of them were rented out. We have been promised the first available one. 

The second disadvantage is the cost of things. Breakfast is $24.00/person. Accordingly, we planned to take the Enoden train into Kamakura this morning and have breakfast at McDonalds, then head across the square to Starbucks, where I hoped I would be able to upload this post.

Not having access to the Internet, however, does have its advantages. It forced us to do other things last night, like write in our journals, play scrabble and try to watch Japanese TV – which didn’t last long. We had eaten in Kamakura before coming out here, so that helped. Then there is a large 7-11 just down the street (Yes, they have 7-11 stores everywhere here), and we went down there last night to stock up on coffee, ice, Coke Zeros and other items.

So, I wrote the above while still at the hotel. We followed our plan and it worked beautifully. We had breakfast at McDonalds ($9 vs. $48), then headed over to Starbucks. It has been fascinating to sit here while watching Kamakura come to life, people walking back and forth, opening of their flower stands, etc. We now have an altered routine for here in Kamakura.

Shichirigahama Station, near our hotel

Our new Internet connection

We will leave here in a few minutes for Kotokuin Temple where the Daibutsu is located. Incredibly, we found a guide service that provides free guides for several hours, and Ken – our guide – will meet us at 12:30 just outside the train station. He will take us to several Zen temples and has also arranged for us to be part of a tea ceremony at one of the temples. Should be fun!

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